LATROBE, Pa. – NFL commissioner Roger Goodell likes everything Ben Roethlisberger is doing to reshape his life since being accused of sexual assault five months ago, but isn't ready yet to cut the Steelers star's suspension from six to four games.
Goodell talked with the quarterback while visiting Pittsburgh's training camp Thursday, saying he won't make a final decision on how long Roethlisberger will be out until the end of the preseason.
The Steelers expect Roethlisberger's suspension for bad behavior to be cut to four games. That would allow the two-time Super Bowl winner to return Oct. 17 against Cleveland.
Goodell was vague when asked several times if Roethlisberger's suspension could be reduced even further. Later, league officials clarified that the commissioner's April 21 ruling specified a minimum of four games.
For the second day in a row, Goodell praised Roethlisberger's efforts following an embarrassing, image-damaging incident that left some of the quarterback's biggest fans angry and disgusted. Some fans burned his jersey; others said they intended to boo him even if the Steelers played well.
"I think he's doing great," Goodell said. "I had a chance to chat with him ... and I'm very encouraged by what I'm seeing. I think he's understanding the seriousness of the issue and is working to improve and to make better decisions. I think that's a very positive development."
Goodell expects to meet with Roethlisberger at league headquarters in New York sometime near the end of the preseason before deciding whether to reduce the suspension.
"I'm very encouraged by what he's doing," Goodell said. "I'll take the period of time that I have before making the decision and make it probably right before the regular season."
After Roethlisberger was accused of, but not charged with, assaulting a 20-year-old Georgia college student in a Milledgeville, Ga., bar, the NFL ordered Roethlisberger to undergo an unspecified evaluation. After completing the evaluation, Roethlisberger was allowed to return to the Steelers' offseason workouts.
Roethlisberger is practicing — his coaches said he's never looked better during training camp — and can play in preseason games. Once the season starts and he is suspended, he can have no contact with the team, unless there is an injury issue, until he is eligible to play. He cannot attend team meetings or practice while suspended.
"I hope he'll continue to focus on himself and work on what his advisers are suggesting he needs to focus on and use it (the suspension) as a productive period for him," Goodell said.
On Wednesday, Goodell said during a visit to the Ravens' training camp that Roethlisberger was going "above and beyond" what the league was asking.
Asked what he considered to be above and beyond, Goodell said, "I think his effort and his focus. He's hasn't just done what he's been told to do, I think he's worked hard to really try to improve and focus on himself and understand what's he's been though and what he's going to do differently going forward. I think that's a very positive thing."
Roethlisberger has been treated warmly by fans during training camp so far, but he may get a better indication of how much animosity there is toward him when the Steelers play their first home exhibition game Aug. 14.